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Siemens/Imatron R&D agreement portends good times ahead in CT

Siemens/Imatron R&D agreement portends good times ahead in CT

Imatron, a pioneer in ultrafast computed tomography scanning, signed on Siemens as a product development and marketing partner this month.

The Siemens relationship involves future CT products and will not impact Imatron's distribution contracts with Picker International in North America, Italimprese in Europe and Mitsui in Japan. Imatron hopes, however, that Siemens' marketing strength will help the small R&D firm pull out of its continuing losses, according to Douglas P. Boyd, chairman.

Siemens expects the relationship with Imatron to help improve its high-end CT technology, said Peter H. Grassmann, head of Siemens' worldwide Imaging Systems division. The German company was the first multimodality medical imaging vendor to introduce a spiral (or helical) CT product of its own last year.

Helical scanning makes use of continuously rotating slip-ring CT technology to rapidly scan along the length of a patient rather than imaging slices step by step. While Siemens and other vendors have adapted helical scanning to standard CT systems, Imatron uses a unique electron-beam scanning system.

This technology has not been fully accepted by the clinical community, however. There are 40 Imatron ultrafast CT systems installed worldwide, but the firm had to trim prices to achieve those sales.

Picker, a major medical imaging vendor enlisted as a distributor in the U.S. two and a half years ago (SCAN 8/31/88), has had to sell the Imatron system at a heavy discount. Little emphasis is placed on marketing a product that is sold at a loss, Boyd noted.

"We have seen a strong market for our product in Japan. One of the reasons for this is that the scanner sells for $2 million. Users in the U.S. have been buying the scanner for $1.4 million to $1.5 million, and there has not been money in the budget for marketing," he said.

Although 25 Imatron scanners are installed in the U.S. versus 12 in Japan, Imatron sold more scanners last year in Japan than in its home market, Boyd said.

"With expanded resources from more than one company, we hope to have more support in the marketing area. If our story gets out to a wider audience, sales should pick up quite a bit," he said.

Medical imaging vendors are beginning to invest more resources in the development of CT, which was once thought to be destined for extinction under the competitive pressure of magnetic resonance imaging. But advances in CT technology and widespread use of contrast imaging are opening up new applications for the modality, he said.

"Coronary screening, for instance, is a fast emerging application that is not only diagnostic but also the key to successful treatment of cardiac disease," Boyd said.

A major advantage of helical CT scanning is that it improves the performance of contrast imaging. "The faster you can do the complete examinations, the more benefits you can get from the contrast media," he said.

Helical scanning also allows for single-breath-hold lung studies, said Gerald D. Daviess, CT business unit manager for Toshiba America Medical Systems. Helical CT scanners can image the average 300-mm length of the lung in a single 10-second sweep, he said

Toshiba plans to introduce helical scanning on its high-end 900S CT scanner in June. The option will add about $100,000 to the system price, Daviess said.

Step-by-step scanning was implemented in CT because of the technological difficulties involved with continuous rotation. As these difficulties are overcome, helical scanning should become the norm rather than the exception in CT imaging, he said.

"I don't see it (helical CT) as a niche product, but as the way CT is going to evolve," Daviess said.


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